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REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA TECHNO-VIPER
By Thomas Wheeler

There are some individuals, and Cobra trooper divisions, from the original world of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, that I sincerely never expected to see again, certainly not in the modern era line, which seemed to emphasize the more serious, or more military, characters.

One of the major factors that I like about the current 30th Anniversary G.I. Joe action figure line, is its willingness to bring some of the more unusual, and yes, decidedly colorful figures from the original Real American Hero line into the modern figure format. In short, some of those figures that I never expected to see.

I realize that there are fans and collectors who would prefer to see the line stick to darker, more realistically military colors, and as of this writing, I have little doubt that the line shall do so once again, once it starts releasing toys based on the second live-action movie.

However, I've always been find of some of the more colorful characters. I've long maintained that, unlike the original 12" G.I. Joe, which was very specifically dedicated to the real-world military, or at least as close as it was possible for the toys to get, the 3-3/4" concept has always been more character-based. Yes, the adventures were more or less military in nature. The G.I. Joe team would probably be best described as a huge unit of distinct specialists from all aspects of the United States Armed Forces (and a few international representatives), committed to putting a stop to the plans of the international terrorist organization known as Cobra.

As for Cobra, the sky was pretty much the limit. The first Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer wore blue uniforms in order for them to be differentiated from any real-world military, but in the years that followed -- it was anybody's guess if some of the uniform designs Cobra came up with were intended as practicality, intimidation, or just to really throw off the G.I. Joe team with the latest crazy uniform fashions.

The colorful tendencies of G.I. Joes and Cobras from about midway through the run of the original line to its end certainly received its share of criticism from some of the more hard-line fans, which might explain why the color schemes have been rather dramatically scaled back ever since. Now, that doesn't mean there haven't been some interesting individuals and troopers along the way. Certainly there have.

And yet, in all honesty, I missed the more extensive color palette, and some of the wilder uniform designs. Fortunately, it would seem that somebody at Hasbro did, as well, and has made an effort to squeeze at least a few of them into the 30th Anniversary line while there was still a good chance to do so.

Along with such colorful notables as Sci-Fi, Airtight, and Lifeline, a particularly distinctive Cobra, first released in 1987, has been brought back, and he's always been a personal favorite of mine. I'm talking about the COBRA TECHNO-VIPER, and he really is someone that I never expected to see again.

When first introduced, the Techno-Viper was listed as a Cobra Battlefield Technician. Not so much a combatant, he was an on-the-spot high-tech handyman. He came with a backpack and an array of tools that gave the impression he could do anything from fixing a balky tread on a Cobra HISS, to getting a Cobra BAT up and running again -- or at least walking. Granted, any number of his tools looked like they could cause a nasty concussion if he decided to whack some G.I. Joe upside the head with one of them.

And, for reasons known only to Cobra, his uniform was purple. Most of it was actually a pretty bright purple, really, with panels and areas of darker purple. Now, purple isn't the most subtle color in the world, for the battlefield or anywhere else. As much as anything, the Techno-Viper was evidence that the G.I. Joe line was moving away from a largely military-dedicated format. For that matter, he wasn't the only purple Cobra trooper, even in 1987. The Sea Slug, driver of the Cobra Sea Ray vehicle, wore an even brighter purple, pretty much a pale lavender, uniform, and the following year, the new Cobra Hydro-Vipers also used this color to a significant degree.

1987 was an interesting year for G.I. Joe, and for Cobra in particular. There was no third season of the highly popular animated series, which for the past couple of years had been one of the main venues through which Hasbro promoted new characters, troopers, and vehicles. The comic book, which is admittedly considered more canonical than the animated series, tended to focus more on established characters, and introduced newcomers less frequently.

In 1986, new characters such as Sci-Fi, Beach-Head, Mainframe, Slip-Stream, Lifeline, Dial-Tone, Leatherneck, Wet-Suit, and others, joined up with the G.I. Joe team and were given a strong emphasis, as they battled Cobra's latest troopers, the Cobra Vipers and the robotic Cobra B.A.T.s, under the orders of the new Cobra Emperor, Serpentor, the creation of Cobra's new scientific head, Dr. Mindbender.

But in 1987, there wasn't a third season of the animated series. Instead, there was a movie. And following the less-than-positive box office reaction to the animated Transformers and My Little Pony movies, Hasbro opted to release the G.I. Joe movie on video first and foremost, later airing it on television.

Unfortunately, with this emphasis on the Cobra-La story, none of the new 1987 Cobra troopers and vehicles that were not specifically affiliated with Cobra-La debuted. Such interesting new Cobra vehicles as the Sea Ray, with its driver Sea Slug, the Cobra Wolf with Ice-Viper, and the Cobra Maggot with W.O.R.M.S, never turned up.

The situation with individual figures was somewhat different. In 1987, the Cobra side of things emphasized a selection of bizarre new individuals, including Raptor, Crystal Ball, Big Boa, and Croc Master. Most of these characters were so peculiar that to have tried to introduce them in the course of the movie would have been nearly impossible. Had there been a full third season of the animated series, it might have been easier to work them in along the way without having them step on each other's toes -- or Cobra-La's.

Interestingly, the only new Cobra trooper division introduced in 1987 that was part of the individually-sold, carded figures -- that is, that wasn't a vehicle driver sold with a larger vehicle -- was the Cobra Techno-Viper.

The animated movie was the last animation for G.I. Joe for a couple of years. When animation would resume in 1989, with the mini-series "Operation Dragonfire", the emphasis was now on 1989 characters, as one might expect, with a special emphasis given to the special teams that year, Slaughter's Marauders and Python Patrol, neither of which included the Techno-Viper. Although some characters from earlier years were involved, especially since both teams featured previously released individuals and troopers, there was no sign of the Techno-Vipers.

The comic book, on the other hand, avoided Cobra-La entirely. It was a concept that seriously didn't fit into Larry Hama's far more real-world adventures of G.I. Joe, and was never used or even mentioned. However, the comic book had long since established a core cast, which largely featured characters from the earlier years of the line, and newcomers were presented far more sporadically and infrequently than the seasonal animated series, which one has to believe was specifically directed to promote new characters, and was in its own way better equipped to do so. Some 1987 characters that never turned up in the movie, such as Outback, Raptor, and a few others, actually gained a fair amount of prominence in the comic book. But once again, the Techno-Viper was not one of these.

That's not to say that Techno-Vipers never appeared in the comic book. In fact, they did, every so often, when appropriate, right along with most of the other assorted specialist trooper divisions under Cobra's ever-growing umbrella. But I cannot recall any particular time when Techno-Vipers received any great emphasis.

Arguably, the Techno-Vipers likely fared best in one of the "G.I. Joe vs. Transformers" crossovers produced by Devil's Due, where the Techno-Vipers were a vital part of restoring the Transformers and endeavoring to control them for Cobra's use. But this was years after their original introduction.

The original Techno-Viper had a mostly bright purple uniform, with a dark purple helmet, that had a black ridge around its circumference near the top, and a vertical silver stripe over the top. There was another black ridge around the helmet at the brow level, and two recessed black areas representing eyes. Interestingly, the package illustration for the figure showed glowing yellow eyes in these black areas, but the figure didn't have them. I assume that it's a paint step that was removed. I once customized a Techno-Viper with these eyes, and he looked pretty good, but it was pretty tricky work, and since I had more than one Techno-Viper, I wasn't about to try to do them all.

Below the black eye area was a broad stripe of silver, followed by more purple. The helmet has a sort of "muzzle" in the front, where the nose and mouth would be. It's the brighter purple in color, and has ridges, like a vent.

The Techno-Viper uniform has an angular chestplate in darker purple, with a silver Cobra emblem in the middle of it. There are ridged silver shoulder pads, which merge into a larger ridged silver area on the back, and a cable going over the left shoulder. The upper arms of the Techno-Viper are darker purple, with black ridges for trim. The Techno-Viper has black gloves, with silver cables.

The original Techno-Viper is wearing a black belt, somewhat angular, with a black Cobra emblem on it. The trousers are bright purple and otherwise fairly standard, and there is a holster attached to the left leg that's made to look as though it's descending from the belt. The Techno-Viper has ridged purple knee-pads, and black boots with two ridges of angular trim, also black, on each boot.

The Techno-Viper did appear a second time. He turned up in 1994, as part of the Star Brigade Power Fighters line. This was an attempt on Hasbro's part to take advantage of a popular new toy line and animated series called Exo-Squad, a superb series which featured futuristic soldiers using advanced mechanized battle suits. The Power Fighters were not quite as impressive, and one tends to get the impression that they might have been rushed into production, especially since 1994 was also the final year of the Real American Hero. The Power Fighters were actually rather scarce items.

Here, the Techno-Viper was also mostly purple, although the bulk of his uniform was the darker purple that was mostly a trim color of the first version. The overall paint job was far more basic. The helmet was black, with an entirely silver face. The chestplate, shoulder pads, belt, and lower arms were copper, as was the holster. The boots and gloves were still black. Very conspicuous by its absence was the Cobra emblem, which was nowhere to be found on the chestplate or anywhere else.

It's still a cool enough figure, especially if you're a fan of the Techno-Viper to begin with, but the more iconic version of the figure is certainly the original 1987 version.

The Techno-Viper never appeared again. Whatever direction and color choices the G.I. Joe line would subsequently take -- the 1997-98 line, the 2000-2002 line, the newsculpt 2002-2006 line, and the modern line which commenced with the 25th Anniversary -- those color choices didn't include purple.

I will, as such, acknowledge my considerable surprise when I learned that the Cobra Techno-Viper would finally be entering the modern G.I. Joe line, as part of the 30th Anniversary collection. He, along with Sci-Fi, and to a lesser degree Lifeline, were not exactly characters that I considered to be major contenders. Needless to say, when I found out that the Techno-Viper would be brought into the new line, I knew I wanted to add him.

I will always be first and foremost a fan of the original line, and it will always be my priority. But if I want to maintain any sort of up to date G.I. Joe collection, then that collection must include the modern format of G.I. Joe action figure. And if Hasbro was going to finally extend the color palette enough to finally bring in one of my all-time favorite Cobra specialist troopers, I wasn't going to say no.

So, how's the figure? Seriously impressive, especially given the number of new parts that the figure incorporates. It seemed to me -- and I heard it from any number of other collectors -- that too many of the early 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe figures were using whatever parts were available, as often as possible, to get "close enough" to a fair likeness of the classic character that the new figure represented. "Close enough" is one of those terms that's open to some interpretation, and a number of fans were not too pleased with some of the interpretations.

That's definitely not the case with the Techno-Viper, or for that matter much of anyone else in the same group. Sci-Fi is another great example. Clearly, with these figures, Hasbro is prepared to put the effort into a far more accurate carryover likeness from the original figure to the modern figure format, and this includes a lot of new parts.

The new Techno-Viper is a distinctly different shade of purple than the original. Now, in fairness, the original Techno-Viper was a very intense shade of bright purple that was considered a little odd even in 1987, and would be an extremely difficult fit now. So the new Techno-Viper is a darker and far more muted shade of purple. He's still definitely purple -- there's no question about that. I wouldn't want to see a Techno-Viper that wasn't purple. But it's a very different shade of purple, and of the newest crop of G.I. Joe figures which features some of these very colorful costumes from past years, the Techno-Viper has undergone the greatest color shift. If there's such a color as "steel purple", like steel blue, then this would be that color.

Structurally, the Techno-Viper is extremely close to his original counterpart. Interestingly, his helmet might even be closer to the original illustration than the original figure. The muzzle is more pronounced, and this time around, he has the yellow eyes! Technically, they're painted metallic gold, but it does give the helmet just a little more personality. The only other major difference is that the silver area underneath the eyes is far less than on the original figure, but it still looks good.

The shirt with the angular chestplate has been designed as a vest. One of the criticisms about the modern G.I. Joe figure format is that the mid-torso articulation point is often rather awkward-looking relative to the design of the figure. I believe that in more recent times, Hasbro has recognized this, and has sought to conceal it when possible. This has generally taken the form of vests or harnesses.

In the case of the Techno-Viper, the entire front and back of his shirt is a separately molded piece. The torso underneath is entirely plain. The angular chestplate is much as before, and is a slightly darker purple. The Techno-Viper does have some darker purple trim, although it's a little tougher to differentiate it on the new figure than on the original. As before, he has a silver Cobra emblem on the chestplate, although it's distinctly larger than the original. The ridged silver area at the shoulders is more of a metallic gray than silver, but it is present and accounted for, and goes further down the back than on the original, and there is also a purple backplate that the original figure does not have.

The cable that runs from the base of the chestplate around the back is still present on the new figure, but the cable over the left shoulder is gone. Not really a big deal. There's an interesting little bit of red trim on the front and back of the cable.

The upper arms are much as before, with similar black ridges and dark purple detailing. The lower arms are similar, but a small black panel on the original figure's arms has been enlarged to a much bigger ridged panel on each arm, that is now dark purple with a black border. The cables are much as before.

The Techno-Viper has a similar belt to his original, although the sculpted Cobra emblem on it is more precise this time around, and has been painted red. The leg holster is now an actual extension of the belt, rather than being molded to the leg itself.

The knee pads are now colored black, and given the double-articulated structure of the legs, are separate pieces. The boots are identical to the original design, but the two diagonal ridges on the boots have been painted dark purple. Nice touch, really.

Any criticisms? Just two, and they both pertain to the separate torso vest. First off, the Cobra emblem is imprinted slightly crooked. Oddly, I spoke with a friend of mine in another state, who had also purchased a Techno-Viper, and he reported that the Cobra emblem on his Techno-Viper was also crooked, and that the "crookedness" was exactly the same as mine. Now, to date, I've only seen one Techno-Viper in person. So I don't really know if they're all like this. But if they are, I do find myself wondering why? And if one of the reasons should turn out to be the immense size of the emblem -- it really is huge -- then perhaps a slightly smaller and straighter Cobra emblem would have been preferable?

The other criticism has to do with structure. The torso vest hangs down to the point where you can barely see the belt. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First of all, the belt is really a nice piece of work, and the red Cobra emblem buckle is a very nice touch. Secondly, since the shirt seems to be hanging over the belt, it makes the Techno-Viper look as though he couldn't be bothered to tuck his shirt in. That's a bit on the sloppy side in my opinion, and frankly, he looks it. I think the Techno-Vipers need a little discipline in the ranks as far as dress and deportment are concerned!

I'll admit though, these criticisms aside, it's a very impressive figure, and I find it rather hard to be too critical of a figure that I never would have expected to turn up in this modern G.I. Joe line in the first place.

One thing the current G.I. Joe line is trying to do is to provide a good range of accessories for its figures. Certainly the Techno-Viper is no exception to this. The Techno-Viper comes with a backpack that is very reminiscent of his original. It is black in color, but has two red tanks on the back of it. There is a hose which connects to one of the tanks, and from there, one of three large tools, clearly powered by the backpack, can be attached to the end of the hose. One of these tools resembles a wrench, another looks like a claw with a serrated section, and the third appears to be a high-tech hammer.

In addition to this, the Techno-Viper comes with a very high-tech rifle, that really looks like something right out of Star Wars. This is also very reminiscent of a weapon that the original Techno-Viper came with. It's not an especially real-world-looking weapon, but it is a very cool design. And you've got to admit, there's a certain intimidation factor. If you're facing off against a Techno-Viper, and he points this thing at you, you're probably going to wonder just what it's capable of. Nothing pleasant, I'm sure.

The Techno-Viper also has a small pistol which can fit into the holster on his left side, and he comes with a display base with a sculpted Cobra emblem, and his name imprinted on it.

There's one more unique accessory -- a little bright green traffic cone with a black Cobra emblem on it. I've heard that there are black cones with green Cobra emblems, too, but I have yet to see any of these. Still -- a traffic cone? And it's clearly designed to be connected to other traffic cones. I'm really not quite sure what the purpose of this is. I mean, in case a HISS breaks down during some urban warfare situation, the Techno-Viper wants to warn other drivers in the area? It's a nicely made accessory, and I like it, but it is just a little odd.

Let's consider the Techno-Viper's file card. But before we do that, let's consider the character illustration. I will say this about the illustrations used for the package artwork for the current batch of 30th Anniversary figures -- and I don't mean the ones that use the animation artwork and are based on the Renegades series. I'm talking about the non-animated figures. It's some of the finest individual character art I've ever seen -- for G.I. Joe or virtually any other toy line. The precision, the realism, and the attention to detail is absolutely outstanding. I'm sincerely pleased that full images of these, not just head and torso shots, are being presented on the back of the package cards. This is artwork that deserves to be on display as much as possible. And the painting for the Techno-Viper is certainly no exception.

His file card, as well as the front of the package card, denotes the Techno-Viper, not as a "Battlefield Technician", which he was in 1987, but as a "Cobra Engineer". Honestly, to me, that sounds like a promotion. But hey, after nearly 25 years, I'd say he deserves it. The file card reads as follows:

TECHNO-VIPER
Cobra Engineer

Primary Weapon: PlazArc plasma electric arc welding system
Combat Gear: Welder pistol, pneumatic shears, hammer, claw, hose and power backpack, diagnostic case with pistol.

(Interesting that the traffic cone isn't mentioned...)

Techno-Vipers are Cobra engineers who can build, rebuild, and retrofit anything from weapons to fortresses. They use whatever materials they have on hand, and send troopers to "take" what they need to complete their project. Their engineering creations are usually powerful, effective, and full of deadly surprises.

So, what's my final word here? As I said early in this review, I'm sincerely pleased that Hasbro is making room in their 30th Anniversary collection for some of the more unusual and colorful characters. The Techno-Viper has long been a personal favorite of mine, and I'm truly delighted that he's been brought into the modern line, something I certainly would not have expected, to hopefully attract a new group of modern fans, as well as give some of us long-time fans a reason to enjoy and support the new line, even as we maintain the original.

The G.I. JOE figure of the COBRA TECHNO-VIPER definitely has my highest recommendation! COBRAAA!